Stephanie Ciccarelli, the primary public voice (no pun intended) of voices.com, recently broached the topic of establishing an amateur tradition in the voice over industry in a post on her Facebook.com profile. I quickly became engrossed in the resulting online conversation. While attempting to add my comments to those already posted on her Facebook page, I realized that I had more to say on the subject than could be conveniently written in that forum. So here are some my musings on the topic.
One of the first questions asked in response to Stephanie's post addressed what is meant by "amateur tradition." While pondering this, I realized that there are basically two elements of the definition of amateur that concern us: why and how.
Most formal definitions have an entry that reads similar to this: "a person who engages in a study, sport or activity for pleasure rather than financial profit or professional reasons." Many of us are aware that the root of the word comes from a French term that means "to love" or "one who loves." This is the why element, the underlying motivation for engaging in an endeavor.
Let me illustrate this with a personal example. I studied theater and classical voice extensively in college, but ultimately decided not to pursue either as a professional career. However, I am still very active in the performing arts, both as a community theater actor and as an classical vocalist. Because of my innate talent and subsequent training I am capable of presenting professional-quality performances, yet I still consider myself an amateur (or semi-professional at most, since I am occasionally paid for my singing). This does not speak to the quality of the performance, only to the fact that I do not attempt to derive any substantial income from my ventures. I perform onstage out of love for the art, not to make a living.
Voice acting, though, has become something different now. Even as an novice voice actor who has spent far more money getting into the industry than I have gotten out of it yet, I consider myself a professional for the simple fact that this is a business. Yes, I love what I do, but my primary motivation is to provide a service for a client in exchange for payment. Because I want to be paid well, I strive to provide the highest quality service possible. And this leads us to the second element: how.
Love for an endeavor does not necessarily translate to a sufficient ability to enact it as well as others. Thus we have the following subsidiary definition: "a person inexperienced or unskilled in a particular activity." And herein lies our trouble.
As professionals, it is not the talented amateur who records a few projects that threatens us, any more than the community theater around the corner is a serious threat to the income of the actors in the professional company downtown. What we are fighting against is amateurishness. We don't want someone to come along and present an inferior service or product and call it voice acting. That is an affront to our pride in our craft.
I think most of us in the voice acting industry are a combination of the professional and the amateur. We make our livings with what we do, but we also love our work, and we take pride in the professionalism with which we approach it and the quality of the product we provide.
So what is the role of the amateur in our industry? I think it is two-fold because there are two kinds of amateur: the rookie and veteran. The rookies are those who are curious about our craft and want to learn more. We need this kind of amateur because they are the stock from which new professionals--much like myself--arise to refresh our industry.
And to keep that dreaded amateurishness from creeping into our craft, we need to remember the second class of amateur: the veteran--those of us who are working professionals who love what we do and want to preserve its rich tradition. It is the role of the veteran to protect the quality of our art, and we do that by being a mentoring resource for those who are inexperienced.
That is what the amateur tradition in voice over really is: the effort to both preserve and renew a craft we love.